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Arizona Considers Making Internet Trolling Illegal

So, right now sitting on the Governor’s desk in Arizona is a bill that would make internet trolling illegal.

House Bill 2549 is actually updating a past statute related to the telephone and is called “ARIZONA REVISED STATUTES; RELATING TO ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL DEVICES.” But the section that has everyone worried is this:

It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use a telephone ANY ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL DEVICE and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person.

This law has already passed both the House and the Senate in Arizona, and is merely awaiting the Governor’s signature.

So what’s the problem?

The Media Coalition has sent a letter to the Governor asking her not to sign it, stating:

Government may criminalize speech that rises to the level of harassment and many states have laws that do so, but this legislation takes a law meant to address irritating phone calls and applies it to communication on web sites, blogs, listserves and other Internet communication.  H.B. 2549 is not limited to a one to one conversation between two specific people.  The communication does not need to be repetitive or even unwanted.  There is no requirement that the recipient or subject of the speech actually feel offended, annoyed or scared.  Nor does the legislation make clear that the communication must be intended to offend or annoy the reader, the subject or even any specific person.

Speech protected by the First Amendment is often intended to offend, annoy or scare but could be prosecuted under this law.

It’s unlikely that a law this broad would withstand a court battle, and definitely (sigh) curtails free speech (please, begin heaping on the hypocrisy accusations). No one likes a troll, of course, and I firmly stand by any one’s right to delete asshole comments from their own sites (trolls can say what they like on their sites, but not on mine), but making trolling behavior illegal doesn’t make much sense. I think time would be better spent teaching law enforcement how to enforce current laws in digital cases instead.

What do you think? Should trolling be actually illegal?

 

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